The designer behind one of Australia’s most successful eponymous labels, Bianca Spender has travelled the world’s greatest cities for her job. Recently Bianca returned to an old favourite with her family and shared her experiences with us.
Describe your hotel experience in Hong Kong?
We had a unique hotel experience in Hong Kong: we stayed in a few different places, so we had a fantastically mixed perspective of the city, which was great because Hong Kong is a city with so many different faces. You’ve got little family businesses next to towering sky-scrapers, new Western food chains next to traditional restaurants that have been there for decades.
We stayed at The Salisbury first, in Kowloon/Tsim Sha Tsui. It was central and great for kids. It also gave us really wonderful insight into normal, local Hong Kong life because it’s owned by the YMCA and is used by locals for a lot of its facilities. The second place we stayed was The Renaissance Hotel, which is a walk way across from the vibrancy of in Wan Chai. It was a hotel with all the trappings: a 50m long pool (one of the longest in Hong Kong) and garden on level 11 that meant you could swim among the skyscrapers, a children’s playground, and a crazy buffet that the kids never wanted to leave.
Among all these amazing stores, it was perfectly situated for my work commitments. Finally, we stayed in Mid-Levels, close to some friends in 2 Macdonald Road, opposite the zoo. Mid-Levels was a bit of an oasis, with less tourists and more green space, which we found really lovely. It’s a bit of a walk, up lots of steps to get there, but there’s lots of parks and it’s a leisurely stroll into town.
What are most interesting precincts and hubs to spend time in are:
I really loved SoHo, which is right next to Mid-Levels. I found wandering the slopes of the neighbourhood, the hidden laneways, and the excitement of a new discovery around every corner to be a real delight. One of these discoveries was The Old Hong Kong Jail – a kind of art-centre: with a gallery, a restaurant and a museum. It had a fusion of old and new architecture with an internal courtyard that had trees and sculpture – a idyllic place for kids to run around and parents to relax.
Your selection of top dining locations and your most memorable meals are…
Tokyo Lima was a favourite. It was delicious: a fusion of Peruvian and Japanese culture and had more zest and punchy spices than I was used to finding in Japanese cuisine. For our family, as I’m sure for most others, dumplings are always a highlight, and the dumplings in Hong Kong are to die for. You can get good veggie dumplings at Din Tai Fung or a range of other places. As you’d expect, there’s tons of great dim sum (yum cha) places all around the city. We were interested in finding the vegetarian haunts that the locals go to and were directed to Veggie Delights in Wan Chai, a not for profit restaurant that employs exclusively hearing-impaired waiters. It was low-key, and we were only tourists. The food was healthy, quick to the table (ideal for hungry kids!) and satisfying.
The best cultural and/or art experiences to enjoy?
I took the family on a food tour of Hong Kong which started with yum cha at a restaurant for locals where you washed your bowls in tea before you ate. The tour then took us to a market which housed a store recommending tea infused with dried lizard on a stick, to help nausea. There were many other exotic delights like starfish, abalone and every kind of mushroom. We decided to play ‘what do you think this is?’ with the kids. The tour finished around the mid-levels, where we saw photos of planes flying between the buildings of Hong Kong, taken when the airport was in the centre of the city. Another highlight was The Hong Kong History Museum, which has a great permanent exhibit on Hong Kong and its origins up until the present.
What is unique or exclusive to Hong Kong?
The people. It is a diverse place that is alive with many cultures and influences. There are a love of food and family and the people are up-front and friendly. It is also visually spectacular, especially at night when it takes on a neon aesthetic, every street lit by a kind of soft glow. The aerial perspectives at night were surreal, to look down from your hotel and see a myriad of intersecting roads and lights. I was intrigued by the bamboo scaffolding on every construction site. You would see builders thirty floors up, seemingly floating off buildings, as if they were defying gravity. I loved the lights from the buildings, the smells of the food, the different streetscapes, there is so much to take in.
What boutiques and shopping destinations or streets did you discover?
Around SoHo, I discovered lots of great, small boutiques. The area is charming and wandering the narrow lanes up towards the Mid-Levels, you come across a fascinating array of stores and cafes. Space is at such a premium, there will often be a treasure hidden up or downstairs, this makes the architecture and interior spaces all the more compelling.
For families, what attractions or activities do you suggest?
One of the best ways to truly discover the city as the family is on foot, with all of the walkways giving you an amazing perspective of the city. Walking around was a good way for us to find lots of serene green spaces and capture some of the spectacular views. With the help of a taxi, train or bus, you can easily get from one side of Hong Kong Island to the other. There are quite a few islands a short ferry ride away that have no cars, friendly people and cheap local food, such as Lamma Island and Cheng Chau. These make for a good half day trip, or longer. My kids also loved Ocean Park, which is a theme park in the Southern District of Hong Kong. With everything from pandas to rollercoasters, it’s a paradise for the young and the young at heart.
Your on the ground rituals?
Buying a public transport card (Octopus) is an essential. You can use it to pay for lots of other things besides the Metro, including entrances to galleries! Also, although taxis are invaluable, they are not always available and in peak times slower than the Metro.
Stay connected with Bianca Spender’s design and travels here.